By Jordan R. Young
Copyright ©1977 William T. Patterson/Way Out West Tent
Few actresses, past or present, can claim the versatility of having played Erich Von Stroheim's mistress, Lon Chaney's girl friend, Charley Chase's sister and Oliver Hardy's wife. It is also to Mae Busch's credit that she was a favorite of several classic directors in the early days of motion pictures.
Mae was born in Australia, of a musical background, and made her first appearances on the stage; later, she was a vaudeville comedienne. She made her film debut in a short, "The Agitator" (1912) with J. Warren Kerrigan and found herself working in several Mack Sennett comedies by 1915, where she appeared with Charley Chase in "Settled At The Seaside."
For director Von Stroheim, Mae played laBelle Odera in "The Devil's Passkey" (1919). She had a bath scene in this film, of which no prints are known to exist. Next, she and Maude George portrayed ersatz Russian princesses who lived with a count (Von Stroheim) in "Foolish Wives"
Maurice Tourneur directed her in "The Christian" (1923), and Victor Seastrom put her talents to use in "Name The Man" during his Hollywood period. Tod Browning cast her as Rosie O'Grady in his 1925 version of "The Unholy Three," where she played opposite Chaney.
Mae co-starred with Harry Houdini in "Grim Game," Edward Everett Horton in "Nutcracker" and-Chester Morris in the Oscar-nominated "Alibi" (1929). She tried to blackmail ex-husband James Finlayson in "Love 'Em and Weep," the first Laurel and Hardy film she appeared in.
In "Sons of the Desert," husband Ollie goes to the convention against her wishes, and in her definitive portrayal of Mrs. Hardy, Mae Busch rewards his disobedience by pelting him with crockery. In "Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy," John McCabe calls her "the epitome of the harsh-tongued, shrewish wife" and rightly so; historian David Robinson has referred to Mae as "the angriest of all the Laurel and Hardy angry wives."
Miss Busch first played Ollie's perfectly mismatched mate in "Unaccustomed As We Are," and again and again in "Their First Mistake," "The Private Life of Oliver The Eighth," and "The Bohemian Girl," where she also flirts with Antonio Moreno. In addition to playing Hardy's missus, she was married to Charley Hall in "Them Thar Hills" and "Tit For Tat" (where she flirts with Ollie) and was Charles Middleton's spouse in "The Fixer-Uppers."
The flirting must've come natural, as Mae was known as "The Versatile Vamp" during the silent era. Years later, she got to play a comic vamp in "Come Clean" and Chickens Come Home;" she also appeared with Laurel and Hardy in "Going Bye Bye" and "The Live Ghost ."
This great lady was lucky enough to work with the top line of leading men and directors of the period, but there is a sad footnote to her story. Mae died in Hollywood, after a long illness, on April 19, 1946; her exact age was unknown but she was only in her forties.
For gracing the screen with her dramatic performances, as well as her immortal contribution to the world of Laurel and Hardy, we offer a toast, per the by-laws of the Sons of the Desert constitution: "To Mae Busch--who is eternally ever popular!"